Red Sox 1967: Strange spotted more than a few pitches (and pitchers)

Eric McHugh

Lee Stange was there at Yankee Stadium in 1967 when Billy Rohr became the Red Sox's ultimate one-hit wonder. Seventeen years later, he got in on the ground floor with a guy who wound up having a little more staying power.

Stange, who went 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA (best among Sox starters) on that long-ago American League championship club, returned to Boston for two separate stints as the team's pitching coach - from 1972-74 and again from 1981-84. In that last season of his second go-around, a hard-throwing rookie named Roger Clemens was one of his favorite pupils.

"Great stuff. Great arm. Great work ethic," Stange said of Clemens, who was 9-4, 4.32 in 20 starts that season as the Sox finished 86-76 under Ralph Houk.

Stange got an early look at Clemens when he detoured down to Pawtucket to take in a Triple-A night game following a Sox day game.

"He just overmatched the hitters," Stange said. "I went back (to the Sox) and said, 'We might as well bring him up here. He's not going to learn anything there.' "

Stange said the young Clemens was always receptive to his advice, calling him a "student of the game" who loved to talk about the science of pitching.

"He always had that great work ethic," Stange said. "He went out and ran and ran and ran and worked and worked and worked - from the first day he was there. I'm sure he did that in the minor leagues, too. I think that's part of why he's pitched so long. He stayed in such great shape with his legs, and he's always had a pretty good motion. His motion has never changed much from the first time I saw him."

Stange's other brush with pitching greatness came in 1971 when, as the Red Sox minor-league pitching instructor, he suggested they take a chance on Luis Tiant, a former 20-game winner with the Indians (21-9, 1.60 in 1968) who was trying to work his back to the majors.

"Louie had signed a 30-day contract with Atlanta, and at the end of 30 days, if they didn't bring him up, he'd be a free agent," Stange recalled. "It just turned out that the end of the 30 days was the weekend they were in Louisville. I knew several of the guys on the other team - Pedro Ramos was there, a few other pitchers I'd known from the Twins. They all said his arm was sound, he was throwing great; they just didn't pitch him much.

"So I called Dick O'Connell and Haywood Sullivan and said we could get this guy for next to nothing because he's going to be released on Sunday. We signed him, and I think he pitched one game for Louisville and they brought him up."

Tiant didn't do much that first season with the Sox (1-7, 4.85), but ultimately Stange's belief in him proved correct. Tiant won 15 or more games for the Sox each of the next five seasons and was an integral part of the 1975 AL championship club.

Said Stange: "He was my find as a scout.”